What is love? This question has a million answers. It is easy to think of love as something blissful like one feels in the company of a lover or unselfish as one experiences in the love of a mother or child. But most often people misunderstand and experience a love which is more about the ego than the true essence of love.
It is then easy to interpret love as lust, desire and wanting. Love masquerading as our innermost insecurities is then just our needy psychological make-up. It is merely a symptom, not a phenomenon.
Then what is love, true love? Actually, as is true with anything seminal, there is only one answer to this. Love is understanding. If you have understanding and compassion towards a person, then you will act to help them or be kind to them, unconditionally and genuinely. All of us know deep down how to recognise love because we’ve experienced it before, perhaps not even in this life, but at some point even subconsciously. When we understand and feel love, then life is joyous. You know it by instinct.
Love helps to develop other positive faculties. To benefit others, you have to have something to share. So first of all, you must be happy—then you can share happiness.
This is what love is. Love is something to share; the practice of love is to share, to give. And through developing your compassion, you get a tremendous amount of happiness that you can then share!
This needs to come from the heart and the heart has to be happy. If you are happy, you automatically smile and laugh, there is no fooling. You are automatically kind and thoughtful if you are happy. You are sharing your smile; you are sharing your glow.
I often think that the word ‘compassion’ sounds very religious in the modern age, but I always like to talk about it because it is actually a very beautiful thing. Compassion is complete understanding. Compassion is the mother or the father, the essence of enlightenment. The Buddha came out of compassion and loving kindness. If I have compassion, then I will give you what you need as best I can with no conditions. I will not put you in a box, I will let you be free and I won’t place expectations upon you. All beneficial activities come from compassion, it is fundamental. Then on top of that we can build the notion of love, the notion of kindness—everything. Compassion is how the universe works, how people work, how your friendships work.
To really understand compassion, you must first show all of these things to yourself. Throw away the labels you use—I call these ‘square ideas’. Think about your genuine needs. Nothing is hidden, nothing is secret, everything is transparent. If you can discover what it truly means to be you, then you will be happy in your own skin, happy to be by yourself.
That sense of understanding will give you a great happiness and a foundation upon which you can build genuine love and genuine kindness.
It will give you a freedom that you can then give to others, one of the best gifts of all.
Sometimes somebody asks me, “If I take care of others, who will take care of me?” It is an interesting question. But actually, the best way to take care of yourself is to take care of others. That’s the way it works, but often we find it hard to do this or even to accept this approach. We want to take care of ourselves by ourselves. That’s how we develop our ego, how we learn to survive; the survival of the fittest. But I don’t believe that’s the way we really want to be. Alongside love, feelings of fear and vulnerability are natural.
Fear is an ally of the ego, constantly trying to keep the status quo, keep things nice and tidy and just as they are, rather than opening up to new and unknown possibilities.
Vulnerability can actually be a very good thing if we look at it in that way. It accepts that the future is uncertain, it is very honest, very human.
If we can learn over time to embrace our vulnerability, we will be less likely to put up those barriers that prevent true love from getting a look-in.
How we define or see love is a part of our self-image. So many people describe themselves in terms of love: “I will never find love” or “I always get rejected in the end” or “I just want to be loved”. These are the patterns of thought that our ego creates to keep us where we are, trapped in our beliefs.
Or, we find love and then the fear sets in that we might lose it, or it’s not quite perfect.
We try to control it and once you try to control love, it can never be true. Love is freedom; love is liberation from the ego, from insecurities, from vulnerabilities and doubts. True love is not a question. It is the answer.
The author is the spiritual head of the 1,000-year-old Drukpa Order based in the Himalayas